John Engler will resign as the interim president of Michigan State University after his recent remarks that some victims of the former university and USA Gymnastics doctor Lawrence G. Nassar appeared to be enjoying “the spotlight.”
In an 11-page letter to the chairwoman of the university’s board of trustees, Dianne Byrum, Engler said he would comply with her request for him to resign. He will officially step down on Jan. 23, according to the letter.
Pressure mounted on Engler to resign as university administrators criticized his comments, which were reported by The Detroit News on Friday. The letter makes no mention of the remarks that ultimately cost Engler his job.
In reaction to the remarks, the board scheduled a last-minute meeting for Thursday morning to discuss “personnel action.” After receiving the resignation letter, Byrum, the recently elected chairwoman, said in a phone interview that the board was poised to accept his resignation in a vote at Thursday’s meeting.
Byrum said the board planned to name and vote on a new interim president at the meeting on Thursday. She would not say who the nominee was.
Engler said in the letter that he would be unable to attend the meeting because he was out of town and heading to Texas for his father-in-law’s funeral.
In the letter, he details an exhaustive list of what he deems to be his accomplishments during his short tenure, from expanded mental health treatment to a free campus bus service.
“The bottom line is that MSU is a dramatically better, stronger institution than it was one year ago,” he wrote.
Engler, a former three-term Republican governor of Michigan, highlighted that “five Democratic members” of the board had reportedly requested his resignation.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Deans Council of the university weighed in with an open letter saying that Engler’s comments about some of Nassar’s victims were inconsistent with its values. “We do not support his continued leadership and request that the board take appropriate action,” the letter said.
“Either he resigns or he will get voted out,” Brian Mosallam, a board member who has been a critic of Engler, said in an interview Wednesday.
“He just continues to plunge this university into crisis and create weekly, if not daily, distractions,” Mosallam added. “He needs to step down immediately.”
Engler has been criticized by other board members in recent days, including Byrum, who told The Chronicle of Higher Education that his comments about survivors were “ill advised and not helpful to the healing process, survivors or the university.”
“I was hopeful that I would be receiving his resignation letter today,” Byrum said in the phone interview on Wednesday.
Two newly elected board members, Kelly Tebay and Brianna T. Scott, also distanced themselves from Engler. In an email on Wednesday, Tebay called his comments “unacceptable,” and Scott wrote on Facebook that “leadership starts at the top.”
“Tomorrow I’m taking a stand!” she said.
Requests for comment to all board members were not immediately answered.
Engler, 70, has served as interim president of the university since early last year, after Lou Anna K. Simon resigned as president the same day that Nassar was sentenced for sexual abuse. She was later charged with lying to the police about what she knew of the abuse allegations against Nassar.
Nassar was a member of the faculty at Michigan State for years and was the team physician for two female varsity squads, as well as the former doctor for the U.S. gymnastics team. He was accused of sexually abusing hundreds of young women, including several Olympic gold medalists, and is serving what amounts to a life sentence in prison.
As interim president, Engler has overseen the university’s response to the scandal as it faced an onslaught of sexual abuse lawsuits.
But he has been accused of being antagonistic toward survivors. In an email obtained by The Chronicle, he suggested that Rachael Denhollander, the first to publicly accuse Nassar of abuse, was being paid by her lawyer to coerce women into making abuse claims. He later apologized.
And in the interview with The Detroit News published last week, Engler said that a fund to help pay for Nassar’s victims’ counseling costs might not be intended for all victims, a characterization some board members have contested. He also said some victims were enjoying recognition from the scandal.
“There are a lot of people who are touched by this, survivors who haven’t been in the spotlight,” Engler told the newspaper. “In some ways they have been able to deal with this better than the ones who’ve been in the spotlight who are still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition. And it’s ending. It’s almost done.”
Board members had already been searching for someone to lead the school long term and could name the next university president as early as June.